Miramonte, Facebook Clash

Elizabeth Lenczowski

Considering society’s technological progress and burgeoning online epicenter, there are more opportunities for teenagers to flaunt condemnable behavior.

Whether that means posting illicit pictures on Facebook, or bullying another student online, schools are encountering problems on how to keep students safe.

So far, there are no federal laws that define what rights students have online or how schools can censor material on websites.  However, in the 1997 Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union case, the Supreme Court ruled that online speech is equally protected as other types of expression.

But still, this verdict does not outline a school’s authority in the matter. Therefore, administrators nationwide are making disciplinary decisions based on their personal opinions.

The legal term in loco parentis, meaning “in place of the parent” is applied to the debate over a school’s involvement in student life.  Some argue that administrators have a right to get involved in a student’s home and assume parent’s rights, duties, and responsibilities by disciplining illegal online behavior.  Others say that schools do not have the right to tell students what to do outside of school.

At Miramonte, the administration seems to have taken a mild in loco parentis approach to students’ online actions.  Disciplinary action is only pursued if the student in question violated an athlete or Leadership contract against illegal behavior.  If so, a meeting with the Athletic Director or Leadership teacher is held, and punishment is dealt accordingly.

“We have a conversation about their integrity to honor their contract,” said Associate Principal Jan Carlson.

Also, online evidence displaying students’ illegal actions are brought to the administration’s attention by members of the community.

Contrary to what some students fear, members of the administration do not have Facebook accounts to spy on students.

“We do not take the time to go through Facebook,” said Carlson. “We don’t go digging [for pictures].”

Although Miramonte may not search Facebook for incriminating pictures, the administration certainly does not turn down evidence, and will talk to students and possibly their parents about their actions.

“It causes us to have a conversation with the student,” said Carlson.

According to Adam Goldstein, a lawyer from the Student Press Law Center, schools in California cannot discipline students for their actions outside of school that are protected by the First Amendment.

California Education Code Section 48950 states “School districts operating one or more high schools and private secondary schools shall not make or enforce a rule subjecting a high school pupil to disciplinary sanctions solely on the basis of conduct that is speech or other communication that, when engaged in outside of the campus, is protected from governmental restriction by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution or Section 2 of Article I of the California Constitution.”

“We are not in the business of slapping hands, we are in the business of keeping students safe and healthy,” said Carlson.

Until a law is enacted defining a school’s involvement in student life, Miramonte will continue to act in place of Orinda’s parents.